Federation Council’s speaker “trying to regain his political weight”

The upper house of the Russian parliament has approved legislation that changes the order of appointment of new members and curtails the powers of speaker Sergey Mironov.

Mironov, the head of the Fair Russia party, was the only member of the upper house who voted against the amendments on Wednesday. The bill had already been adopted by the State Duma, the parliament’s lower house, where the ruling United Russia party has the majority.

After the new legislation is signed by the president, new members of the Federation Council will not have to wait for parliament’s approval of their powers and will be able to start work within ten days.

Observers say Mironov has now lost the opportunity to slow down the process of confirming new members of the upper house if they do not belong to his party.

The speaker, who actively campaigned against the bill, on Wednesday suddenly called on the members of the Federation Council to vote for the amendments. However, he again criticized the bill, saying that “the procedure of forming the upper house will not essentially change if the members are not directly elected.”

Mironov also expressed his surprise “at the desire of one house of the parliament to regulate the activities of the other.” At the same time, he warned that “someone may launch a witch hunt” if the Federation Council had not approved the amendments and asked his colleagues to vote for them. 

State Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov said on Tuesday that United Russia’s amendments “will help to avoid bureaucratic practice when the taking of office by new members of the Federation Council is sometimes delayed for no good reason.”

Gryzlov, who also chairs United Russia’s Supreme Council, told reporters that the upper house of parliament essentially “represents regions.” That means that they should decide who will represent their interests, he noted.

There is no reason to doubt procedures used by regional legislative bodies appointing their representatives in the Federation Council, Gryzlov believes. The amendments were submitted by deputies “to develop the president’s initiatives to make the political system more democratic,” Gryzlov said, as reported by RIA Novosti. Mironov has described the draft bill as “a judicially incorrect document” that “increases the risk of corruption,” Vedomosti daily said. He has also spoken in favor of direct election of members of the upper house. According to him, the population may choose from candidates proposed by regional authorities.

The row over the procedure of appointing new members of the Federation Council may demonstrate that Mironov is gradually losing his position, observers say.

His opposition to the legislation may even cost him the post of speaker, Vedomosti said. The Federation Council’s commission on regulations has recommended members of the upper house support the draft bill, and some senators, mainly from United Russia, have signed the letter to the president, approving the legislation, the paper noted.

However, some analysts believe that Mironov will manage to retain his position. His political fate will not be decided by United Russia, said Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the Petersburg Politics Foundation.

At the same time, Mironov is trying “to compensate the loss of political weight” and “to explain why the Federation Council exists,” Vinogradov told Vesti FM radio.

The speaker “has to show that he remains a serious political figure and his party is continuing to play an important role,” the analyst noted. According to him, Mironov needs interesting political initiatives, and direct elections may be a “relatively popular idea in society.” But in the current political conditions this idea could not be realized, Vinogradov added.

There is a slight chance that the Federation Council “will become a real governing body rather than a decorative one,” the analyst said. And United Russia is proposing “serious improvements for the largely bad scheme of forming the upper house,” he noted.

­Sergey Borisov, RT

Interview with Aleksandr Borisov, member of the Federation Council

RT: Can you please explain what exactly the bill currently proposed by the United Russia is about?

Aleksandr Borisov: Well, to put it really briefly, it is about when a senator's tenure begins. Current regulations say that a senator comes into power the moment his membership in the Federation Council is approved by the council itself. United Russia has proposed an amendment according to which any candidate for senator automatically gets a senator's powers 10 days after being nominated by the corresponding region.

RT: Why is Sergey Mironov so strongly opposed to this amendment? Why did the conflict occur?

AB: Well, I think he might have viewed this as an attempt to limit his powers as the chairman of the Federation Council, and a violation of his rights. Well, I think what is really important here is to avoid infringement on the interests of regions. Hence the conflict of interests. Tomorrow the bill will considered by the Federation Council, and my personal opinion is that it will be upheld by the majority there.

RT: Why?

AB: Well, you see, I've heard many stories about candidates being nominated by their regions and then failing to get their senator powers because of delays within the Federation Council. I think an amendment that gives them the powers automatically is good. This is why I think that the majority will uphold the bill, as it is for the good of Russia's regions. After all, the Federation Council is the Chamber of Regions; this is why the interests of the regions dominate here.

RT: There has been speculation in the press that a conflict like this may have serious consequences for Mr. Mironov, all the way up to his resignation. Can you comment on that?

AB: In fact, I'm not quite prepared to comment on that. At least, this issue is not on tomorrow's agenda, that's for sure.

RT: Do you think a bill like this is really important and necessary these days?

AB:

You see, a new law comes into effect next year that determines a new, more democratic procedure for forming the Federation Council. According to the new law, the new way of getting into the Federation Council will be easier and more democratic. After a candidate has passed the elections, he is yet to be approved by the Council, which is a certain bureaucratic obstacle that the candidate has to overcome before he can fully represent the interests of his region, and that has to be removed.